Around the Mayors’ Council table at TransLink, Vancouver and Surrey had a nice thing going: “We each need transit; let’s built both.  Together.”

Rather than try to compete for (at this point, non-existent) dollars to proceed with SkyTrain on Broadway or three light-rail lines in Surrey, Robertson and Watts were making the case that we needed to find funds so that both could happen at the same time.  Each made the case for their projects, but avoided trying to trump the other.

Up until this week:

Vancouver should pare down its overly ambitious plan for a $2-billion-plus buried SkyTrain line along Broadway toward UBC, says Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts. …

“We can have all the grandiose ideas that we want but unless that sustainable funding policy is in place, nothing’s going to happen,” she said.

“Vancouver wants to push their agenda and they have every right to do that. But I would suggest that the multi-billion-dollar project that they’re proposing is not going to fly with residents in Surrey – and Surrey residents will be contributing to it.”

It’s the first time Surrey representatives have taken a direct shot at Vancouver’s plans.

– Surrey Leader, December 10

Perhaps that was just a dose of reality therapy.  It may be possible that we can find a mechanism that would generate the billions needed for both projects to proceed – but I wouldn’t bet on it.  The delay-and-divide strategy of the Province has worked too well for them to give it up.

Transportation Minister Polak has required that the regional mayors meet three conditions before she’ll even consider a request for new revenue sources:

  • The Mayors’ consensus for the priorities of the region
  • Public support for new funding tools
  • Affordability, increasing revenue from properties around transit and “no negative impact on the economy.”

That last one is a huge out, but it’s the first one that is sure to divide Surrey and Vancouver, given that the Province will likely insist that one municipality’s priority be rated over the other.

So what should Vancouver do?

Suggest that Surrey go first.  And then Vancouver to follow as a very quick second.

In part, that’s just recognizing the inevitable: there’s no way Vancouver would find the votes around the regional table.   Who would vote to, yet again, bump a surburban municipality down the list so that Vancouver can get yet another hugely expensive rapid-transit line?  And deprive the municipality that has the only tolled bridges in the region.  The one with the fastest rate of growth.  The one paying over a hundred million a year to TransLink, with few improvements – not even a bus stop for the new Port Mann express – to show for it.  And then be asked to pay more for Vancouver’s benefit.

Dianne Watts would hardly need to raise her voice in order to ensure an overwhelming majority of support.  Vancouver would be lucky to get a single additional vote.  Oh yeah, maybe Electoral Area A (the UEL) – the one with the institution, UBC, that says it doesn’t intend to contribute to the cost of the line which will benefit its real-estate development.

Anyway, Vancouver is going to be engaged internally in a huge debate over technology, construction impacts, route and potential rezonings.  How likely is it that it could resolve all that before Surrey is ready to lay track?

So Vancouver, if it’s realistic, should be getting behind Surrey in order to ensure a regional consensus, a united front, and a chance to come in quickly – with Surrey’s support – to address a need that is, in fact, regional in scope.

Sometimes coming in second is the winning strategy.